CRANSTON, R.I. — Taco Inc. held a public grand opening for its new training center here on August 1, albeit one without a ribbon cutting; the ribbon was cut several weeks prior at the grand opening event held for employees and their families.

The mechanical room at the training center.

The Taco Innovation and Development Center, as it is formally known, was a $20 million investment in the midst of the Great Recession, a bold move said Bob Mayoh, vice president of PR and account services at SLN Inc., Taco’s agency. The decision to move forward was made by Taco President John Hazen White Jr. despite the threat of $1 million in additional taxes as the State of Rhode Island, Mayoh said, attempted to cement its reputation as the worst place in the country in which to do business.

The Taco Innovation and Development Center consists of a two-story 24,037-sq.ft. addition to Taco’s existing offices and factory building. The facility is part of Taco’s 20-year commitment to training.

Taco has prospered in spite of Rhode Island, White told approximately 150 guests at the grand opening. This is the place where he was born and raised and where the company has grown and developed, he said. (The company was founded in 1920 when Elwood White, John White Jr.’s grandfather, bought the Thermal Appliance Co.)

White speaks to guests at the opening.

“This building isn’t zero to 60 in four seconds,” White said, but an extension of training for employees that Taco started 20 years ago.

“My first commitment is to our employees,” White said. “This company has been built by and for them.” Happy, well-trained employees take good care of the customers.

The training center was conceived around all the different types of training that Taco offers, incorporates all of its products and encompasses, he said, everything that Taco believes in terms of innovation and high quality.

“It’s something my mother and father would be proud of too,” White said.

Taco has been training employees and customers since 1992 on virtually anything ranging from English as a second language to an MBA program through a partnership with Johnson & Wales University in Providence. Taco will partner with other institutions, such as local community colleges or Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. Underwriters Laboratories conducts laboratory training. Taco also has its own in-house trainers, such as industry icon John Barba.

The facility is a state-of-the-art learning and training environment, complete with new classroom spaces, conference rooms, a business center, and functional labs for testing and teaching.

In addition, Taco's existing building has undergone extensive renovation to advance the comfort, functionality and productivity of its reception area, employee cafeteria and office areas. All renovations will include new energy efficient lighting, natural light, and the best in indoor comfort.

Taco has applied for a LEED Gold certification for the project, which went through five phases of design and development. It employed 36 subcontracting employees and provided almost 200 jobs for the local economy.

The facility is dividable via moveable walls into multiple classrooms of different sizes. A large classroom with theater-style seating showcases all of the types of heating and cooling for which Taco makes products. A clear panel on the floor shows PEX tubing for radiant floor heating. Panel radiators along the windows also can provide heat. Air conditioning can be delivered through chilled beams in the ceiling or through fan coils.

The building contains advanced hydronic systems applications, including radiant heating and cooling, snowmelt, geothermal and solar thermal. The building cut its domestic water use by 20% (a prerequisite for a LEED certification) and landscape water use by 50%. It hosts an electric vehicle charging station.

The mechanical room in the Innovation and Development Center can be a classroom too with its color-coded piping systems and labels describing the function of each piece of equipment.

“The new Taco Innovation and Development Center is a wonderful showcase for our industry, where members of our professional community will learn about the latest technology and applications our industry has to offer,” White said. “It’s also an enriching environment where Taco employees will continue to increase their knowledge and enhance their personal and professional lives through training and education classes and programs. With the building now operational, we look forward to begin sharing this amazing facility.”